The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

I’ve mentioned before a couple of books that first turned me back onto reading as an adult. One of them was The Time Traveler’s Wife, among the others was Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.


Since Labyrinth was released some thirteen years ago, Mosse has written several other books, including two follow-ups to her debut – Sepulchre and Citadel. While I liked Labyrinth – and still have a copy of it on my bookshelf – I didn’t ever go back and read anything else from her.  Something else always came up.


So when The Burning Chambers fell onto my desk a short while ago, I decided to give it a go.


Reader, I struggled. At least to begin with. It’s five hundred pages that explores the early days of the French civil war – the French Wars of Religion between the Catholics and the Hugenots.


We see it through the eyes of a handful of characters – led by nineteen year old Minou who receives a strange letter one day, leading to a chain of events that finds her fleeing from Carcassone to Toulouse before onto Puivert


I persevered though, and I’m glad I did. The more we get to know Minou and her family the more human the story becomes, the more engaging.


The struggle I had at the beginning was that much of the story relied on the politics of religion – the trouble with that, though is that as someone who doesn’t give much of a toss about religion, I found it hard to care what either side got up to. They were all behaving like a bunch of prats.


I felt like we didn’t spend enough time getting to know the characters – and it wasn’t until Minou’s younger sister was put into peril that I really started to care what was happening.


At that point, when it became more about the human element, I raced through the last half of the book.


Would I recommend this book? It’s difficult to say, and it comes down to what I always say, if you like this sort of book, you’ll like this book. It’s well written, it delves into the events of that time with – I assume – some accuracy. And if it’s not accurate, it as least believable.


The test comes with would I read the second book in the trilogy? For me, that depends on how quickly it comes. If it’s released next year, then the characters will probably still be fresh enough in my mind to pay them a revisit. Now I’m engaged with them, the next book should be easier to get into.


If I have to wait a couple of years…? I’m not sure I’d have the patience.


The Burning Chambers is published in Hardback on 3rd May 2018 by Mantle


The York Realist by Peter Gill

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After posting last week’s review of The Eyre Affair, WordPress kindly pinged me a notification that I had just published my 200th blog post.


I’ve had a quick peek back and that breaks down as:


89 Books Reviews

82 Random Ramblings

24 Chapters of Memories of a Murder

2 Short Stories

1 Poem

And 1 Review of a stage show (Dawn French’s one-woman show, for those interested)


All of which presents me the perfect opportunity to go little off-piste and talk about something a bit different (AKA I’m reading a big book and struggling with it so there is no book review this week, but I’m distracting you with something new and shiny):


A review of a play!



My twitter chum @adejohnleader very kindly (go on, give him a follow) gave me tickets to see The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse.


First off – let’s start with the Donmar. One of the reasons I lept at Ade’s offer was because I’d always wanted to go to the Donmar, and never previously had a chance.


The seats are arranged in a horseshoe shape around the stage. We we were sitting on one side of the ‘circle’ (more of a U) and that meant we saw he whole production from the side of the stage, looking down on it.


It was a unique experience, one that actually helped immerse you into what was going on. It made me feel less like an audience member and more of a voyeur. Bizarrely, it helped make the whole thing seem more real.


There were moments when George – the main character – would look over at our side of the stage while talking to someone in the other direction. His words were saying one thing, but his facial expressions another.


I was very aware that my friend who I’d spotted on the other side of the theatre couldn’t see what I could see, and may well have been interpreting things differently. I wondered what things he was seeing that were shaping the play for him. Were we both watching he same play, but having very different interpretations, simply because of our physical perspective?


Highly likely, we know that art of any kind is made in the emotional perspective of the viewer, but I’d never really considered physical perspective in other shows I’d been to.


Onto the play itself.


The York Realist is set in 1960’s Yorkshire and all takes place in the front room of George’s house. He’s a farm labourer, living with his mother, being set up with one of the local girls Doreen – but there is a secret, one bubbling under, one that everyone seems to know, but never mentions.


That secret is John and a love affair they share.


I’ll be honest John is the other reason I jumped at the chance to see this play. Or at least Jonathan Bailey was. I’ve had a bit of a crush on him for years, ever since I first saw him in dodgy Neil Morrissey BBC1 Sitcom Me and Mrs Jones. Said crush was only heightened after 2016’s glorious Crashing (Can we have another series, please?).


But, while he was good, the whole cast were, particularly ‘Barbara’ actress Lucy Black it was Ben Batt as George that captivated my attention the whole way through. He had a presence right from the moment he stepped onto the stage.


He was the enigmatic George, drawing us all in and making us understand his character with just looks and eye rolls. The writing – the play was written by Peter Gill – obviously helped, natural as it was, but he inhabited the role so much that the character still lingers clearly in my mind several days later.


The play explores the difference in cultures between the two men, John, the out and proud gay man, seemingly less confident in making a move, while, in one of the play’s funniest scenes, George grabs a pot of Vaseline from the kitchen and drags his partner upstairs.


Events conspire against them but the emotional crux of the play comes when George must make a decision. Stay in Yorkshire or move to London with John. Similarly, John is confronted with the possibility of just staying in Yorkshire with the man he loves, but in a community where they won’t be accepted.


The pull of home, our friends and family, what’s comfortable vs the new and exciting, vs a love that could go wrong seems to be the main conflict. Reader, myself and a random woman I was sitting next to were in tears.


But, as well as emotional, it was funny. Funny in a way that TV can’t be. Looks from one character to another, a subtle eye roll which on the screen wouldn’t translate that well, were suddenly hilarious in person.


The theatre reminds me of real life. It is funny, and it is emotional, and sometimes even the through the most mundane of activities – such as George eating his dinner – some of the most interesting parts of life happens.  It’s a trick that television hasn’t been able to achieve for some time. Maybe it used to, particularly in the early days of the soap operas, but our attention spans are too short now.


We have to have drama. Or comedy. We very rarely seem to get both, and when we do the drama has to be bigger and better, the comedy has to be more raucous or surreal. On TV a gag about a pot of Vaseline would come across as crude and offensive, on the stage it’s a moment of real life.


For me, 2018 is going to be the year of plays. I’m aiming to see one every month. I saw Lady Windermere’s Fan in January, plus a revisit of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in early Feb. I’m chalking The York Realist up as my March visit come early. It’s not the first play I’ve ever seen in the West End, but I have a feeling it will be the one that truly started my love for non-musical productions.


The York Realist is on at the Donmar until the 24th March with a special benefit performance on the 21st before transferring to the Sheffield Crucible until 7th April


(PS – I’ve nicked the image from the Donmar’s website – couldn’t find anyone to credit, but would gladly amend this blog were someone to let me know!)

The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde

An alternate version of Swindon in the 1980’s doesn’t seem the obvious place to set a book, but that’s exactly what Jasper Fforde did with his Thursday Next series.


The Eyre Affair is the first book in one of my favourite series, but one I haven’t read for a long time. Going back to the very beginning, I was surprised to discover how simple it all was.


The world of Thursday Next is one where Wales is its own republic, cheese is smuggled across the borders, England is at war with Russia over the Crimea and literature is the dominant cultural force.


There us uproar when Archeron Hades steals the original Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript and threatens to destroy its characters.


This is a fantasy series, akin to Pratchett’s Discworld – though with far fewer books – and as such by the end, it became complex and self-referential. Even the above summary seems a complicated – though is nothing like how it ends up.


I was surprised to discover how simple it was. Fforde manages to ease the reader in to this strange new world, one step at a time, so that as more and more bizarre things happen, they don’t seem that unusual.


I have to confess, I’ve never read any of Pratchett’s Discworld series – it always seemed a bit daunting, the sheer number of books incomprehensible and impenetrable, but now seeing how simple the Thursday Next series starts I’m tempted to give it a go.


On the flip side, If you’re a Pratchett fan and you’re looking for an easy, escapist read filled with bad puns, then The Eyre Affair – and the rest of the Thursday Next series – is a very good place to start.


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The old saying goes that there are only two things certain in life – death and taxes. The similarity between them is that it’s next to impossible to work either of them out.


There’s one other certain thing – that is if you try to write a bestselling book about people waiting for taxes, it will almost certainly fail.


Luckily Chloe Benjamin has written about death, a far more fascinating subject. Specifically about four siblings growing up in New York in the seventies who hear whispers of a woman that can tell you the day you’re going to die.


They visit her, and one by one they discover their unique days. We see through the eyes of Varya, the eldest, and the last to go inside the woman’s apartment.


We and Varya learn that her expected date is long in the future, an old woman, she’ll be eighty-eight. She joins the others, but none of them share their date.


We follow their lives as they grow up –  the reader is not aware of the other dates either, although there are clues along the way – and each of them approach life in a different way.


Without wanting to spoil anything for anyone who might read, I found Varya’s approach the most interesting. The contrast between the way she chooses to live her long life is interesting in contrast to the others.


And that’s the question the book is trying to answer. What’s better, a long life lived carefully or a short one filled with passion and adventure?


The more I read, the more I started to think about it. As a reader, we didn’t know when they were going to die, we just knew that they would. We didn’t even know that they knew when they were going to die – they just had a date from an old woman, no hard proof.


This is the way we all live our lives – none of us know when we’re going, all we can be certain of is that we will. The difference here, though, is that they are confronted with their own mortality when they are kids.


The eponymous Immortalists are not our four characters, they are all children. All of us believe we’re going to live forever when we’re young – this book explores that moment when we realise that one day, we too will die.


The characters in this book become obsessed with it, some of them fight it, some of them embrace it – all of them succumb, eventually.


The Immortalists is a well-written exploration of death, the characters becoming mouthpieces for society in general. It doesn’t shy away from some hard truths, nor does it quite go down the route you would expect it to. It doesn’t try to solve the mysteries of death, instead, it tries to explore the questions that come up in life.


What is it all about? What should we do with it?


I’ve been trying to think of something that this book is like, but it’s quite unlike anything I’ve read before. I enjoyed it it, though, and it shows us a slice of America in a similar way that other big novels have done before. If you’ve enjoyed things like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes LastI think you’ll like this one.


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is published on the 8th March by Tinder Press

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

I’m trying to catch up on my Sky Box at the moment… I have about three months worth of Holby City and Casualty, and I think even a flight to Australia wouldn’t give me enough time to watch all the episodes of Neighbours I have backed up.


But this week, of all the things I could have chosen, I put on Miriams Big American Adventure, in which, as the name suggests Miriam Margolyes travels around American trying to understand what it means to be an American in Trump’s USA.


The first episode saw her visit Chicago, specifically the South Side, one of the most dangerous areas in the world. Indeed, while she was there, there were three injuries in a shooting, and nobody in the area seemed overly surprised.


She spoke to young men who said it was kill or be killed. She talked about Michelle Obama who had lived on O block but had gotten out. That was the American Dream they said, to get out, to make their lives better.


In the same week, I’ve been reading Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City. It’s about one weekend on an estate in London, where, following the murder of a British soldier riots are beginning to sweep through the area, and tensions are high


We experience the action through the eyes of Yusuf, Selvon and Ardan. They’re all native Londoners, it’s their home, but the white skinheads of Britain First want them to go home.


At first, I felt a bit of an outsider myself, reading this book. I’m a white man in my very late twenties (the decade has not only rung last orders, but they’ve turned out the lights, turned off the music and threatened to call the police if I don’t leave immediately) and I do not live in London.


I visit London regularly, but only certain areas of it for work, or to see shows. I’ve not been to the estates that Gunaratne talks about. That’s not my London. My London is very safe and comfortable and full of gin and tonics.


But the more I read, the more I started to realise this isn’t a story about London. Nor is it a story about a muslim boy, or a black boy, or an Irish boy. It’s a story about the state of the world.


We don’t just see things through the eyes of the boys, we also have Nelson, Selvon’s father and Caroline Ardan’s mother. Neither of them are native to London – Caroline grew up in Ireland and move to London to escape the clutches of the IRA; Nelson came from Montserrat in search of a better life and found his own race riots.


Gunanatre subtly reveals all of this across forty-eight hours, building up to a Britain First march that ends at the foot of Ardan and Yusuf’s tower block. I struggled at first because there was nobody like me in the book, they were in a part of London I didn’t recognise, I didn’t think it was for me.


But then I started to notice the similarities and I started to understand the differences, not just in race and culture but in age as well. That’s the point of books. To explore new worlds, to broaden our horizons. To help break down barriers.


Caroline and Nelson came to London looking for a better life. They found what they were looking for, but it was tougher than they hoped. Selvon and Ardan and Yusuf are all trying to find their better lives – they’re trying to build on what their parents gave them.


It’s what we all do, or at least try to do. My parents weren’t rich, we didn’t go on regular jaunts abroad and we didn’t have all the new toys or get taken on days out every weekend, but we didn’t exactly struggle, we lived within our means.


I’ve always wanted a better life. Wanted to not have to worry about money in the same way my mum might have.


The kids in this book, they want a better life, to not have to worry about the things their parents worried about. It’s the same thing I wanted. It’s the same thing those young men on O-block in Chicago want.


I’m luckier than most, the life I want to better was not a bad one at all, but we all have the same driving force. The mad and furious city isn’t London. It’s the whole world and it’s time we started to recognise not just our differences, but our similarities as well.


Books are written for many different reasons, and mostly we hope people enjoy the story, but every now and then there are books described as ‘important’. I sometimes think that’s a bit pompous, and a way of saying, “you won’t enjoy this, but it’s about controversial subject X, so you can’t say you don’t like it”.



Here’s the thing. I DID enjoy this. Yes, it had a message, but it delivered it in a way that took me on a journey with the characters. It didn’t change them, there’s not much you can change about characters across a weekend, but it changed my perceptions of them, it changed my understanding about them.


In Our Mad and Furious City is published by Tinder Press on 3rd May 2018.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Writing is hard.


Even the writers who claim to just open a blank page and then start writing will begrudgingly agree with this.


There are writers who do tons and tons of research for months beforehand, while others go the opposite way and make up their own richly developed worlds where they get to decide the rules and history. There’s no research in that, but it’s just as hard – if not harder.


But it’s always been mystery writers who get my respect. Those who are able to write a compelling story around one simple question – whodunit?


As a – so far – unsuccessful writer, I know first hand how hard it is. I spent six years writing a novel, a murder mystery, carefully placing clues, highlighting them subtly to the reader but not drawing too much attention to them, drip feeding enough information that they could solve the problem, but not so much that it makes it easy.


I played around with my structure, my lead character couldn’t be everywhere at once, so things had to happen in certain orders. People had to let slip small pieces of information at opportune moments without it being too clichéd, too signposted.


I brought in flashbacks to help inform the reader, to keep it interesting, to give them the same information my lead was getting without pages and pages of exposition.


It was hard keeping every ball in the air and I STILL didn’t get published (apart from the pages on this very blog… what’s that you want a link? Oh, go on then, click here to start from the beginning). Imagine how hard a published writer would have had to work.


That – finally – brings me to this week’s book The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.


It is a typical Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery. Big old house in the country, a huge cast of characters. Deceit, betrayal, blackmail and of course, death.


How to solve the mystery, though? How to solve the problem of a character needing to be everywhere at once? How does one person do the job of a whole police force?


Here’s the clever bit – our main character, Aidan Bishop has woken up in the body of someone else, with no memory, either his or those of his host. He soon learns that upon falling asleep at the end of the day he will re-live the day again, this time in the body of someone else.


He will see the same day from eight different perspectives, and all he has to do to escape from this loop – he’s done the eight lives several times before – is solve the mystery of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle.


Think Quantum Leap meets Downton Abbey via Groundhog Day.


I love a murder mystery, and I cannot resist time travel, so this book had the perfect premise for me. I didn’t see the reveal coming, but in retrospect it all works which is one of the few things I ask for in a mystery.


On top of these elements, there was an interesting power struggle between Bishop, essentially a blank slate, and the pull of the personalities from his hosts. Each character he – and subsequently we – inhabited felt completely different, but familiar at the same time.


Lastly, the trap that some of these books fall into, perhaps one of the traps I fell into, is that of the cast of supporting characters. Too few and it’s obvious who-in-fact-dun-it, too many and it can overwhelm the reader.


Turton has a huge cast of characters, fifty plus have travelled to Blackheath for a party and that works in his favour. Our lead characters can claim not to know many of them, and therefore we get them drip-fed into our consciousness. On the flip side, enough of them are omnipresent to make it feel like we’re not completely detached from what has come before.


All in all – my favourite book of the year so far – and I’m incredibly jealous I didn’t have the idea.


The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is published by Raven Books on 8th February

A(nother) Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day

Back at the end of November, some of you will remember I ran a little twitter tournament to find Twitter’s book of 2017.


The list was compiled from my favourite books of the year, some notable prize winners that I hadn’t read, and then rounded off with a couple of suggestions from Ginge and The Scottish One (names changed to protect the guilty)


The tournament was won by Matt Haig and How to Stop Time after a close battle with Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt in the final, but I was ashamed to say that a book I hadn’t read had made the semi-finals.


I immediately sought out a copy of The Party by Elizabeth Day to rectify the fact (after telling Ginge off for not recommending it to me earlier) – and I’m glad I did. Had I read it earlier in the year, it would have easily made my 2017 Top Ten.


So, what’s it about?


Martin Gilmour is being interviewed by the police, they’re keen to find out more about what happened at the party he’d spent the evening at. The party was held by his best friend Ben Fitzmaurice and his wife Serena, while Martin attended with his wife Lucy. It wasn’t just an average house party, it was a big sumptuous occasion one that even the Prime Minister was rumoured to show up to.


And something went down.


We don’t know what, though. Instead we learn about the events of the party and the relationship between Martin and Ben in four ways – Martin’s police interview, flashbacks to Martin’s POV at the party, Lucy’s diary entries some time after the event and flashbacks to Martin and Ben’s school days.


With no real family of his own, Martin grew to see Ben as a brother, but is that view reciprocated or is it a classic case of the popular kid surrounding himself with yes men? Martin is known as LS – Little Shadow – so perhaps that gives you some clue, but as a reader, it was hard to know where this book was going to go. It kept you guessing, not just about what happened at the party, but about the true nature of the relationship between the two men.


Last week, I wrote about ‘writing about what you know’ – the opposite is true with reading, you should always try to read what you don’t.


I don’t have any real straight male friends, most of them that I socialise with are colleagues or partners of my close female friends. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why books about male friendships have always been some of my favourites (Tin Man, A Little Life), but here that was just one aspect of a very good book.


The book also explores through both Martin and Lucy, the nature of their marriage, her desire for kids, his desire for none, and ultimately that plays an important part. All of this takes place against the backdrop of the party. The party, the house, the school the boys went to, are all richly described, the bit players, the supporting characters are all solidly built, they seem real, but they don’t pull focus from our main trio.


If I had one criticism it would be that we don’t delve into the emotional side of things as much as I’d like to. A lot of stuff happens to Martin and Lucy, and I feel that we were kept apart from some of that – but at the same time, that is the nature of Martin’s character, a little bit detached, a little bit cold. This was likely done intentionally to put the reader into Matin’s mindset.


This makes for a great read, the type you’ll want to devour in one sitting, and a lot of people probably will when the paperback is released in April.


The Party is published by Fourth Estate and is available now in Hardback

A(nother) Review: The Last Romeo by Justin Myers

They (you know, them) say to write about what you know. That’s why you’ll mostly find me writing about books, gay men that don’t have a clue and cups of tea.


The Last Romeo is about James a journalist who, following a break-up with his long-term boyfriend, starts chronicling his new dating adventures through an anonymous blog. The details are changed to protect the innocent (and not-so-innocent), and the blog soon becomes an online sensation.


Does any of that sound familiar? If so, it could be because you’re familiar with The Guyliner’s history – a blogger who did largely the same for a period back at the beginning of the decade. When he stopped the blog (presumably when he met his own Romeo), he turned to reviewing the weekly ‘Blind Dates’ column in the Guardian.


If you’ve not read them, go and take a look here  – it’s very funny and definitely worth waking up on a Saturday morning for.


BUT I’m not here to review that, I’m here to review The Last Romeo and you might be wondering what the connection is (side bar: if you ARE still wondering what the connection is, then I think you need to go and have a long talk with yourself).


In the middle of last year The Guyliner, famous for being just an eye, unmasked himself as Justin Myers – journalist and soon-to-be author of – yep, you’ve got it – The Last Romeo.


Before we talk any more about the book, I’d like to use this opportunity to talk about myself (it’s my blog, I’ll do what I want, and THEY do say write about what you know).


I’ve been writing – or at least attempting to – for my whole adult life. The only time I ever have any real success (I’m not talking commercial or critical success here, I’ve had none of that – I just mean when I don’t stall after five-thousand words) was when I’ve written about things I know.


Stories based on things that have happened to me, characters based at least in part on people I know.


The worry for me when I write those, is what if people think it’s real? What if my friends recognise people they know, or even themselves? What if my family think that this actually happened, or that I actually share the thoughts of the characters I write?


What if it’s too real?


I’m mentioning this, because when I first went into reading The Last Romeo I started to assume it was all true – which I had to keep reminding myself not to do.


Part of the reason for that is that – unsurprisingly, given the fact that Myers was writing for a living before publishing a book – it’s really well written. The tone of the book matches the tone of his column, so if you’re a regular reader, you might just think you’re reading an extended essay rather than fiction.


It’s also that rare form of funny.


A lot humour, relies on context, on body language. In books it relies on the imagination of the reader. Even the most hilarious of one-liners can be lost on a reader who hasn’t aligned their inner monologue with the tone of the book.


It’s why there isn’t a whole genre of funny books out there. That makes this even more special. It’s a good story, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the character grows and learns. Myers tells the story, with a smirk and a knowing wink.


For fans of the The Guyliner’s blog, the good news is this is everything and more you’d expect from his novel.


For fans of good fiction in general, the good news is that he has a two book contract, so we’ll get more! Hurrah!



The Last Romeo will be published by Little, Brown in ebook from 1st February and in paperback on 31st May.

A(nother) Rambling – Big Books of 2018?

A few weeks ago, I talked about my favourite books of 2017… but we’re two days shy of 2018, so now, so I’m calling time on looking back and I’m looking forward instead.


November and December are always a funny time for me, I never get to read as much as I’d like partly because I’m so busy at work, partly because I’ve spent most of the year reading and need a break.


The last ten weeks or so as well, I’ve been crazily busy writing as well so books have definitely taken a break. But not any more, I’m back with a vengeance, a pile of books that reach almost to the moon and back and five books that I’m particularly looking forward to in 2018.


Here they are, in release date order…


  1. Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon – published 11th January 2018


This first one’s a bit of a cheat, because I’ve already read it, but I loved it. You can read my full spoiler-free review by clicking the link above if you fancy a bit of a digression, but in short, this book isn’t about Elsie, it’s about Florence. She’s in a care home when we meet her, struggling with her memory – the kind of unreliable narrator who believes everything they say.


When a man from her past turns up in the care home, she and best friend Elsie start investigating a long forgotten crime. How much of what happens is true? How much of it is simply misremembered?


This, Cannon’s second book, a follow-up (but not a sequel) to 2016’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is a lovely exploration of old-age and friendship. I can’t wait for it to be released into the wild and for everyone else to read it, too!


  1. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – published 8th February 2018


Sometimes as a bookseller you get a good feeling about a book before you’ve even read it. Since I first saw this one pop up on Twitter, I wanted a copy.


Aidan is stuck in a time-loop, repeating the same day, over and over again, inhabiting the body of a different person each time. The day ends with the death of Evelyn Hardcastle each time, and the only way for Aidan to break out is to identify the killer.


I already have a copy, ready and waiting to be read, and it will be one of my first of the new year.


  1. The Last Romeo by Justin Myers – published 31st May 2018


Justin Myers came out of his alter ego’s shadow earlier this year to reveal he was publishing his first book. Writing as The Guyliner for many years now, his was one of the most famous eyes on social media. His writing veers between insightful to the downright hilarious while sometimes skimming across being a little bit shady.


The Last Romeo will follow an online journalist who starts a blog reviewing each and every date he goes on as he tries to find love. If this sounds familiar, it may be because The Guyliner started out in much the same way – though now he just settles for writing the often hilarious weekly reviews of the Guardian’s Blind Dates column.


If The Last Romeo is only a tenth as funny and well written as those blogs we’re definitely in for a treat.


  1. Studies for Resilience by Patrick Gale – published September 2018


Regular readers will know that when I read A Place Called Winter back in 2015, I fell a little bit in love with Patrick. This year’s critically acclaimed drama The Man In The Orange Shirt written by Gale was a bit of a fix for the lovers of his books, but we’re finally getting a full hit this Autumn with a new releases.


Not much is known about it at the moment – so I’ll just give you the official blurb:


1970s Weston-Super-Mare and ten-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, has life transformed by his mother’s quixotic decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano. He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her brand of glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother.

When he is enrolled in holiday courses in the Scottish borders, lessons in love, rejection and humility are added to daily practice.


I can’t wait to read it!


  1. Transcription by Kate Atkinson – published September 2018


I’ve never really mentioned Kate Atkinson on this blog before, but years ago, I went through a spate of reading everything she’d ever written. Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Case Histories are both on my bookcase which holds only my most favourite reads.


Case Histories particularly is one of my favourites – that rare beast a crime novel that wasn’t afraid to slow the pace down and dive into its characters. Always an inspiration for me, the mere mention of her name is enough to make me excited for a new novel. Here’s the official synopsis:


Transcription is a bravura novel of extraordinary power and substance. Juliet Armstrong is recruited as a young woman by an obscure wartime department of the Secret Service. In the aftermath of war she joins the BBC, where her life begins to unravel, and she finally has to come to terms with the consequences of idealism.


Of course, there are hundreds of books published each year and I didn’t even know that my favourite book of 2017 – Tin Man, seriously, if you’ve still not read it, please do – existed at this point last year, so what I’m really waiting for are ALL the books.


I can’t wait to stumble upon my next favourite read.

My Top 10 Books of 2017

It has become tradition at this time of year – well, I did it last year, and I’m doing it again this – for me to tell you my top 10 favourite books of the year.


There are literally hundreds of books published every week, and that’s just those from James Patterson, so the thirty or so books I’ve ready this year don’t even cut a small dent in that pile.


I like to think that I have some expertise at picking out good books, the cream of that large crop, so this stuff here really should be the creamiest cream at the top of the croppiest crop. I’ve possibly let that analogy run away with me.


In November, I ran a tournament on Twitter to find the best book of 2017 – Now, Twitter wouldn’t let me vote in my own poll, so this is where I get my say.


Matt Haig won with How to Stop Time while Adam Kay came second with This is Going to Hurt – will they appear in my Top 10 (Spoiler: They do) and if so, where will they appear?


There’s only one way to find out.


=10. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth – Frank Cottrell Boyce


Each time I read a book, I record a score out of ten across various categories – at the end of the year, I sort that list and present it in reverse order here. The list is as much a mystery to me as it is to you.


Sputnik – a book for kids – is a slightly surprising entry to the list, but the truth is, this story is a fun romp (I got to use the word “romp” in my original review and dammit, I’m using it again now), it’s a little cartoonish in place, but it tells a nice tale with more than a hint of pathos.


=10. Animal – Sara Pascoe


Coming in in joint tenth position, and therefore making this year’s list a Top 11, is Sara Pascoe with her autobiography of what it means to be a woman. Not only did I learn more about the female body than I ever cared to, but her powerful chapter on consent takes on a new relevance following recent news stories…


9. Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks


Who knew the man could write as well as everything else he can do? This anthology of short stories from THE Tom Hanks is a great collection of tales all loosely connected by, of all things, typewriters. Crossing genres and time periods, these are nice bursts of fiction for everyone.


8. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt


I read this one late last December, and it immediately jumped to the top of my ‘one to watch’ list for 2017, staying there for some time. Schmidt takes the familiar – or indeed, not so familiar – tale of Lizzie Borden and transplants the reader right into that creep house in Massachusetts. The writing is so vivid, so visceral you can actually feel the thickness of the air as you read. Definitely one of the best books of recent times.


=5. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman


This one stays with you. And not just me – it made it to the semi finals of the twitter tournament. The character of Eleanor Oliphant is bizarre, unique. She stands out for being a one-off, but in a way, she is so easily identifiable. We are all outsiders looking to connect, but Eleanor’s tale quickly veers from quirky to tragic, and takes the unsuspecting reader along with it.


Despite that, I will remember this book mostly because every time I try to write about it, every autocorrect known to man wants to call it Eleanor Elephant.


=5. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay


The second of three books in joint fifth position is the runner up of our twitter vote. This often hilarious insight into the life of a junior doctor gives the reader a fresh perspective of a job coloured by what we see on the news and on Holby City. Like many of the other books on the list, the serious turn at the end packs a real punch.


There’s also a fucking fuckload of swearing in it.


=5. How to Stop Time – Matt Haig


One of the books I’ve not stopped banging on about this year, and the winner of our twitter poll makes it to (joint) fifth in my personal top 10. I said during the poll that I couldn’t pick between this and Adam Kay, so I’m mildly amused to discover I scored them exactly the same.


How To Stop Time takes a corker of a concept – a man who ages at a much slower rate than the rest of us – he’s four hundred, looks forty – and runs with it, using the man’s condition as a metaphor for depression.


He also calls the American President a motherfucker.


4. The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Hollinghurst


So what on earth could beat Matt Haig? I’m a sucker for a gay love saga and Alan Hollinghurst doesn’t disappoint with his latest. The opening half of the book, exploring the viewpoints of Freddie Green and a young Johnny Sparsholt are worth the entrance fee alone. The ending doesn’t quite hold up compared to the first half, but that’s a little like saying Romeo and Juliet isn’t as good as Macbeth.


3. The One – John Marrs


Proving that it’s not all about the heavy literary scene, this thriller from John Marrs was a bit of a surprise to me at the beginning of the year. I like a thriller as much as the next person, but they can be a little throwaway at times. Not this one. A unique concept linking five separate stories that forces us to question the true nature of love.


2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne


Similar in a way to the Alan Hollinghurst, Boyne charts the history of gay rights through Ireland through the history of one man. By investing in the one character, though, it just heightens the emotional impact, and the ending hits just the right note, managing to bring a year or to the eye.




So the winner.



If you’ve been paying attention throughout this year, this will come as no surprise to you.




1. Tin Man – Sarah Winman


Heartbreaking. Joyous. Triumphant. An exploration of life and love and grief. This book has become part of me since I read it in one sitting earlier this year. I still occasionally hug my copy of it, just to make myself feel better.


If you haven’t read it… well, I shan’t talk to you until you do.




All of these books are available now – and I’ve managed to cross quite a broad list this year. Christmas is coming – so consider this your wish list – or a gift guide for the literary lover in your life.


I’ll be back at the end of December with a short round-up of the books I’m most excited about for 2018…